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_—————————. —————————:—— CAUGHT AT LAST; OR, THE FELON'S BRAND. [ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.] CHAPTER XXXVIII. DEFIANCE. MYNHEER FABIAN VAN FLEWKER had perhaps never felt so utterly downcast and miserable in the whole course of his existence, as when he entered the little path leading to his Richmond cottage, late in the afternoon after his recent conversation with M. Par- landet. The door of the cottage stood invitingly open- Tie merchant entered unobserved, and turned into- his study. From the moment he quitted the office in the Close every faculty he possessed had be" bent the consideration of a single subject —what was the actual object his manager proposed to attain! He must have a motive, of course," muttered Van Flewker, "for enteiing upon a path so hazardous, so daring. What can be the motive that makes him brave the risk of my turning him adrift?" In was n", characteristic of the man, and showed the estimate he entertained of Parl's morality, that he never fflr a moment believed the terms,his manager had demanded wr-ie the advantages that worthy gentfaman reaily desired to obtain. Still, what did the manager expect to gain ? Some great advan- tage surely, or he would not have embarked in a course so foreign to his customary love for his own security and ease. The merchant, was galled to think he was outdone in cunning by one he had always regarded as mentally far beneath him. The necessities of his own position, and the sudden demands his credit, did not occupy Van Flewker half so much as the unexpected treachery of Parl. His habit of cautious reticence upon business matters had kept from the latter's knowledge many of his principal's resources. No one perhaps, except Whiffles, was acquainted with the actual amount of the mer- chant's propry. The present crisis therefore, though attended with some sacrifice, would be surmounted. Self-sufficient M. Parlandet, in his eagerness to shake the pear which he now considered ripe, had over- looked the possibility that the 'position in which he had cast his benefactor might not be sufficiently em- barrassing. Strengthened in his belief by the mer- chant's discontent at -the ill-success of his expedition, and complaints of a failure to which he was unused, M, hnd made his last step forward just one little bit too soon. Yet still the merchant mused, and still he tried to divine the duta-Ia of his subordinate's scheme. Van Flewker ieant his head upon his hand, and looked, from the window. His abstraction was so complete that he did not notice a head look into the room, a graceful form steal rapidly to his side, nor know that his 'laughter was near until he felt her loving arms around his neck. 11, Dear father," cried the girl, what a delightful surprise! When did you return ? How long have you been in ? Nobody knew that you were here. Come, let vre look in your face, and read how fortune has used you." Van Flewker placed his arm round his daughter's waist, and drew her to him fondly. Not over well this time, my Gerty," he said, with a, kiss. Fortune has not been kind, and a man whom I. have loaded with benefits has proved a scoundrel. It is the way of the world, my dear, and I am not astonished." Poor father i" said Gertrude, caressingly, sooth- ing him with her hand. "Suely the world is very cruel. It must be bitter to make this sad experience. Do I know him, dear father, this wicked, this un- grateful man *?*' A fellow whom I raised from nothing, who owes his wretched life to your mother's compassion, who has eaten of my bread and drunk of my cup these ten years, fancies he sees his opportunity in a temporary embarrassment, and turns upon me. The fool-the miserable, conceited, self-sufficient fool!" continued the merchant, bitterly. What, dearest father, that hateful Parlandet sgain ejaculated Gertrude. "I feared it—ah!— I feared som" grievous ill would happen." You, child?" said Van Flewker, looking at his daughter in wonder. Why, what can you know of this fellow's plots ?" I know nothing, my father, though much is sus- pected, by others as well as by me," answered Gertrude. But I had better explain. So long as this evil man refrained from injuring you, I was willing to follow their advice. Now I must tell you all." Geitrude u< i,ailed to astonished Van Flewker the conversation that had taken place between herself, Natalie, Mrs. White, and Kleckser, upon the lawn; told of the league into which they had entered; of Kleckser's discovery of the Lucerne letter, which she 1 knew from Natalie, and of the German's unsuccessful journey. But although M. Kleckser failed in the object he I set out to gain, dearest father," she concluded, he has not given up all hope. My cousin heard only this morning from Madame White that he is still engaged in seeking this M. Barmann, and believes he shall be able to discover him." Ah had they only known, these two, how Kleckser had that very morning sped, what misery, what sorrow might still have been spared. For once in his life Van Flewker was thoroughly surprised. Here was a complication with a ven- geance A conspiracy of which he -had not the slightest suspicion had been carried on for months under his very nose, and he had even now but a dim and remote idea, of the actual object. His daughter, his clerk, and his housekeeper, were engaged in endeavouring to defeat the schemers and to secure his welfare, and he had not even suspected tha' that welfare was in any way imperilled. The reflection was not Mattering to the penetration he had hitherto believed himself to possess. Read by the light of his daughter's story, the audacious conditions imposed by M. parlandet, as the price of his revealing the scheme which was to save his patron, acquired fresh impor- tance. It was not so impossible, after all, that he positively ntended and expected to render their acceptance imperative. chap 38 Van Flewker allowed his reasoning to carry him a little friri h-r, and to reflect how Pari could possibly have calculated upon his present embarrassment as sure to occur. How could Parl know that an opportunity so favourable to his conditions would ever arise ? 'How if he had prepared the way for 9 How if this were the grand_scheme in which P*ri n ting of every Description I I M. Barmann was his confederate ? IZow Ii" ueIláû not only prepared the way, but had also created the em- barrassments ? A sudden flood of light streamed in upon the merchant's mind. Here, he thought, was the solution of the entire mystery. And here was the reason for M. Parlandet's daring game. Van Flewker laughed aloud in the consciousness of his security. The scamp he cried. The double-dealing, wily, artku scamp A well-laid plan, M. Parlandet, a mighty cunning scheme; but you have to deal with one more artful and cunning still. And to this wretched, thankless impostor, I should give my only child!" "Give me, my father shrieked Gertrude. Ay, little one, that was the rogue's demand," returned the merchant. Did I not tell thee ? True, I had not meant that thou shouldst he offended by the mention of the fellow's offer. Finding me this afternoon downcast and desponding, tired with my journey, vexed at the failure of some negotiations I went abroad to effect, he told me he had long expected some such catastrophe, and had prepared a scheme wtrch would at once relieve me from every embarrassment This he could tell me only upon con- ditions. What think you those conditions were, my daughter ?" Gertrude shook her head in mute dismay. Her lips moved, but no sound issued from between them. Merely the half of my business and the hand of my child-nothing more," said Van Flewker coolly. A faint shriek escaped Gertrude yet, as ever, her, first thought was for her parent. "Father, poor father she uttered, bursting into tears and clinging to Van Flewker's breast. That bad, that dreadful man—how could he dare Fear not, my Gerty," said the merchant. Re comforted, my child. He will dare nothing more to vex us. I cast him off to-morrow, as I kick away the toothless dog that tries to bite me.' Be comforted; compose yourself, my child." chap 38 But Gertrude could not still her vehement sobs. With the mention of Parl's conditions rose up within her, too strongly to be controlled, the recollection of the noble heart that had so delicately shown to her its inmost feelings-of the manly and honourable mind that had so carefully abstained from attempting to work unfairly upon her emotions-of the frank; and kindly spirit that suppressed its wishes rather than tempt. her to yield to love what conviction should still deny. Ah were that memorable question to be put again ? She knew her own mind better now. Sorrow and grief had led her to think seriously upon and to embrace the pure and holy faith of which he whom she mourned had been a devoted worshipper. Alas that the change had been so long protracted, so fatally delayed. chap 38 She grew calm at last, to her father's great relief. He—good m, n attriblitecl her emotion to sym- pathy for the annoyance he must experience through Pari, and felt grateful accordingly. How little are even men who pride themselves upon their penetra- tion able to guess the sources of woman's tears Vhen M. Parlandet comes, Vhiffle," said the merchant to his book-keeper next mofning, as he looked into the counting-house, let me know. I vish to see him de moment be shall arrive." W-w-wonder where Kleckser is this m-m-mor- morning, Mr. Whiffles," said Gwillim to his com- panion. He wasn't here all d-d-day yesterday, sent no m-m-tnessage or n-n-note to say he was ill. Now it's past eleven, and he's n-n-not here yet. Some- thing must be the m-m-matter with him. D-d-don't you think so ?" "It is odd, certainly," replied Whiffles. "If he don't come in the course of the day we may as well go round to his lodgings this evening. 'There's some- thing up, too, Mr, Gwillim, you may depend, between the governor and Parl." Lor d-d-do you think so ?" exclaimed Gwillim, aguiity flush spreading over his face. I do," returned the cashier, emphatically. What's more, I'm pretty sure of it. I-lulloa Corning, sir." The merchant's whistle summoned Whiffles. He was absent full half an hour, and a serious ex- pression puckered his honest features into a look of care when he returned. Gwillim felt his heart give a sudden bound. He bent down to the desk, and wrote more busily than ever. What do you think, Mr. Gwillim ?" whispered Whiffles. I've just got orders to sell all the shares in the Great Bunkum Concession. Either the governor's heard something bad about that scheme, or we're hard up for cash. I hope to goodness the house isn't going wrong." He shook his head, and went out disconsolately. Gwillim looked after him furtively." "It's the b-b-beginning of the end," he muttered. D-d-deuce take it How f-f-flustered I do feel! I wish rdn-n-never listened to that ab-b-b-bominable Pari." Whiffles was not long in carrying out his commission. The march of intellect, the progress of society, the admirable arrangements of commerce, and all the other tokens of high-pressure civilisation, upon which white- waistcoated, stout gentlemen love publicly to dwell, afford ample facilities for raising the wind when you have an} thing, however flimsy, recognised as negotiable in the share market. It,is only when the bubble has burst, when knavery has outlived credulity, when investors are beginning to make unpleasant enquiries into the progress of the great scheme for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, that the scrip of th" project fails in producing money. The i Great Bunkum Concession was in high favour, and its shares at a premium. Whiffles brought from the broker's a pocket-book crammed with notes. GwilHna had been in an uneasy frame of mind ever since his companion's departure. He felt nowise more comfortable when Whiffles returned Now that affairs seemed courng to a crisis and M. Parlandet's schemes appeared likely to produce some dreadful result- magnified by his excitable Ünagination-Gwillim began to feel the qualms of conscience. Thes"rigular influence Van Flewker insensibly exerted over all his dependents, re-assertedF&itselF with all its former power. Gwiiiirn felt himself guilty in intent, if not in fact, of having m some way aided to produce his master's downtall. His feeble nature, stronger still for good thin for evil, lied in terror fri>m the sight of the convulsion he be'ieved he had assisted to produce, and, in the hope of receiving either comfort or abso- lution, he resolved to confess his sins to Whiffles. So soon as Whiffles had returned to his desk, after having carried, in the proceeds of the shares to Van Flewker, Gwillim brought forward his coniession. He had hardly stuttered half-way through, his story when M. Parlandet walked in Good day, my children, good day," he said airily, in his accustomed jaunty manner. Accept the, benediction of your faithful and devoted Par- r Executed at the Chronicle Office, Penarth. -4-. landet. How—my "Kleckser not yet returned ? Nothing serious, I hope, my Chancellor ?" "Can't say, Mr. Parlandy," returned Whiffles, shortly. "Mr. van Flewker wants to see you immediately." "My patron, my benefactor, the most illustrious light of this illustrious age, deigns to cast a thought upon his humble slave!" exclaimed Parl, in ecstacy. Ah happy privilege Vhiffle, I fly to learn his slightest vish i I wouldn't be in your shoes, mister, for a trifle," remarked Whiffles, as the door closed behind M. Par- landet. Now, Mr. Gwillim, if you please. You were saying-" The interview between M. Parlandet and his chief was short, but stormy. The harsh voice of the merchant, raised to its highest pitch, penetrated into the front office. A phrase or two they overheard caused the clerks to look at each other with blank and startled faees. Hardly five minutes elapsed from the time of the manager's leaving the office for his employer's room, before the occupants of the count- ing-house heard a door thrown violently open. Sounds of a scuffle followed. The steps of two persons came rapidly along the paasage. Whiffles and Gwillim rushed to the window. A heavy body, propelled apparently by an irresistible agency resembling a boot, shot violently across the Close, and fell with a crash against the opposite wall. The heavy body scrambled to its feet, and turning, dis- played the malignant features of M. Parlandet. He shook his fist at the house, and limped away. A bitter laugh issued from the doorway. A minute afterwards Van Flewker entered the counting-house. His face was flushed, as if with violent and unusual exertion, and he held his blue spectacles, wifh their glasses broken, in his hand Still, he looked pleased. chap 38 "Vhiffle," said the merchant, if dat scoundrel I have just kicked out- Beg pardon, sir," interrupted Whiffles. Do you mean Mr. Parlandy ?" Yes," replied Van Flewker, sternly. If dat scoundrel ever come here again, turn him out. If he von't go, send for de police, and give him in charge." Very good, sir," replied Whiffles with much satis- faction. I go home now," continued the merchant. I am not so young as I'vas, and exercise is fatiguing. If anyting occur, one of you come down to Richmont directly, and teU me vhat it is." The merchant might have left the office half an hour when M. Parlandet re-appeared, accompanied by a poMceman. The two marched into the counting- house, and Whiffles, mindful of his recent instructions, advanced to meet ttiem. Vere is Van Flewker ?" demanded Pari, in a voice choked with fury. Mr. van Flewker has gone home, Mr. Parlandy," replied. Whiffles, with emphasis. "Wait a minute, please. I've something to tell you." With the extremest gusto, the cashier communi- cated his employer's orders. To his surprise, how- ever. M. Parlaod&t enly laughed, and ta»nkig to the poheeraan toM hem-to1 follow. By George Mr. Gwillim," said Whiffles, I do believe he's going to give the governor in charge for an assault. You. stay to mind the office. I must be off to Richmond at once." But M. Parlandet's intentions were of a much more serious kind. Accompanied by the policeman, he pro- ceeded to the merchant's cottage at Richmond, as fast as cab could carry him. Arriving here, he went straight into the dining-room with the officer. Van Flewker, his daughter, and Natalie were still at table. "Officer!" shouted M. Parlandet, pointing to Van Flewker," there is your prisoner." All sprang to their feet in astonishment. The constable walked up to the merchant, and laid his hand upon his arm. very sorry, sir," said the man "but I must do my dooty. I arrest you, Fabian van Flewker for the wilful murder of one Raymond White." ——— chap 38

CHAPTER XXXIX.